Liriano set for key start vs. former team

MINNEAPOLIS — As it turns out, Chicago left-hander Francisco Liriano will get to face his former Twins teammates after all.

At least that was the latest news Friday, as White Sox manager Robin Ventura announced that Liriano would start Saturday’s game against Minnesota at Target Field. It’s the latest twist in what has been a crazy week for Liriano. He’s been removed from the starting rotation twice and put into the bullpen, only to be put back into the rotation once again.

Earlier this week, Liriano was demoted to the White Sox bullpen, but was then scheduled to start in Friday’s series opener against the Twins. Then Chicago’s game Thursday against Detroit was rained out, so the White Sox’s plans changed. Liriano was back in the bullpen and was not scheduled to face Minnesota.

Saturday, Liriano will indeed take the mound to face his old team for just the second time since Minnesota traded him to Chicago in late July.

“I was just looking forward to going out there today and trying to go deep in the game, trying to eliminate the walks and give my team a chance to win a ballgame,” Liriano said Friday, before finding out he was back in the rotation. “We’re in a pennant race right now. Every game counts.”

This week has been about as up and down as Liriano’s brief tenure in Chicago. In nine games (eight starts) with the White Sox, Liriano has posted a 5.53 ERA with a 2-1 record, 42 strikeouts and 27 walks in 40 2/3 innings. Prior to joining the White Sox, Liriano’s ERA with the Twins was 5.31 in 22 games.

“He’s been great. He’s taken the ball. He’s actually pitched better I think than his numbers say,” said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was part of a trade for Liriano back in 2003 between the Twins and San Francisco. “I know he had a bunch of good starts here and we didn’t reward him by scoring any runs for him, but whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s done.”

Liriano has been asked to be a starter, a reliever and then a starter again, all in the span of just a few days. Saturday will be Liriano’s first start since Sept. 7. Since then, he made one relief appearance on Tuesday against Detroit and gave up two runs without recording an out in the eighth inning.

Yet while Liriano’s role has changed several times recently, the 28-year-old left-hander has taken it in stride.

“We’re in a situation right now where we have to use our best guy, whoever’s pitching better,” Liriano said. “I’ve been in the bullpen before, so it’s not something new to me. I’m just looking forward to the chance to help the team from the bullpen or starting.”

While still with the Twins this year, Liriano was demoted to the bullpen after posting a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts of the 2012 season. He made five relief appearances before eventually returning to Minnesota’s rotation.

Liriano’s time in Chicago has so far yielded mixed results. He’s allowed at least two runs in seven of his eight starts. On Sept. 1 against Detroit, Liriano walked seven batters in just four innings — yet somehow allowed just three runs.

But he’s also had a seven-strikeout performance as he shut down the Yankees in a late August game, holding New York to two runs on six hits in six innings.

“Sometimes he goes out there and doesn’t quite have the control that you would want, but I think it’s one of those that he wants to do better and he’s going to get the chance,” said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. “That’s why we got him.”

Chicago got Liriano because the White Sox are hoping he can help be a piece of the puzzle as they battle the Tigers for the American League Central title in the last few weeks of the season. Liriano has postseason experience, although not much. He started the first game of the American League Divisional Series game against the Yankees in 2010 and appeared in relief in the ALDS in 2009.

But for the past year and a half, Liriano has been a part of a Twins team that lost 99 games a year ago and is again on pace to lose over 90 games this season. The hope of trading him to Chicago was that a change of scenery might help the once-dominant lefty return to form.

He’s now part of a pennant race, and says he’ll do whatever the first-place White Sox need from him as they look to win their first division title since 2008.

“I’ve been (to the playoffs) before, like three times with the Twins, so I know what it feels like,” Liriano said. “I’m trying to have fun here with the guys. It’s been exciting.”

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